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Civil engagement with Trump supporters

Hasan Zillur Rahim, New America Media | 3/2/2017, 6 a.m.

Like millions of Americans, I was devastated when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race despite winning the popular vote by 2.8 million. But as days went by and reckless words from President Trump’s uncensored mind began rattling the world, I longed to engage with one or two Trump supporters to see if there was any common ground from which to look at our country as Americans and not as partisans.

The fact that I was a Muslim-American complicated the matter, given the bigoted rhetoric from the White House. Still, I kept hoping.

The opportunity came during a gathering of a group of amateur photographers in the foothills of San Jose, California where I live. While discussing finer points of the decisive moment, my curiosity was piqued by a fellow American whom I will call John. John is white, in his mid-sixties and retired. He made his money in real estate and now spends much of his time playing golf and pursuing his passion for photography. He is also a vigorous Trump supporter.

Although nervous to discuss politics, I told myself that the worst that could happen would be for John to ask me to get lost. I could live with that.

Here is a summary of our conversation.

“Do you think Trump’s policies of deporting immigrants, banning Muslims, and calling media the enemy of the people are good for our country?”

“Well,” he said, looking at me curiously, “Trump is just keeping his word. I admire him for that, don’t you? How many politicians do you know who keep their promises? And what’s wrong with deporting illegals? Isn’t it wrong for them take up jobs meant for the legals?”

Statistics prove otherwise, I told him. Besides, many immigrants do menial jobs that make life easier for Americans like him. “Look at who are serving us here! Hispanics.”

“I am sure they are legal. I have no problem with them,” John replied.

“Do you know any illegals?” I asked.

“I personally don’t know any,” allowed John, “but trust me, they are around.”

It went back and forth like this. John did not budge and neither did I. I raised the Muslim ban issue, reminding him that no one from the banned Islamic countries had committed terrorist acts in America. John was unimpressed.

“We can never be too safe,” he said. “It is right to err on the side of caution.”

“Even if it goes against our values?”

“I don’t think it does. In any case, the president is responsible for keeping us safe by any means necessary.” As he said this, I became aware that John was looking at me with more interest. Next instant, I knew why.

“Are you a Muslim?”

Here it comes, I thought, the moment of truth! For a fleeting second, I recalled what Patrick Stein, one of the conspirators said about the Muslims he was planning to massacre in Garden City, Kansas, in July 2016, fortunately foiled by the FBI: “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.”